The politics of defense cuts

posted at 8:45 am on November 30, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

Politics can be fun… particularly when you win. It’s the governing part which comes afterward that’s hard. This is a lesson which may yet again become clear to Barack Obama if he makes good on his threat to veto any effort to forestall the cuts in defense spending which are looming on the horizon. Even though military spending is a favorite target of his base, the real world implications for his reelection effort may be dire. This is the point being made by Loren Thompson at Forbes this week, as he examines some of the places which rely heavily on jobs in the military industrial complex.

When President Obama visits Scranton, Pennsylvania, this week to talk about his jobs bill, one part of the economy he probably won’t be discussing is the military-industrial complex. Defense jobs have become a tough topic for him, because at the same time he is trying to increase employment for school teachers and construction workers, he is threatening to veto legislation that would prevent hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the Pentagon’s budget.

The cuts are required by the Budget Control Act that Obama signed in August, which stated that if a special congressional committee failed to find $1.2 trillion in budget savings, then military spending would automatically be reduced by $600 billion over the next ten years. That’s on top of $350 billion in Pentagon cuts already being implemented under the same law…

So even as the president pushes his jobs bill, hundreds of thousands of jobs in the military-industrial complex could soon disappear as a result of his position on deficit reduction. That stance might have strong support in some parts of the Democratic Party, but in Northeast Pennsylvania where Scranton is located it’s a pretty scary proposition. The Scranton area contains several sizable defense plants making items like high-tech helmets and smart bombs, and the biggest local employer is a nearby Army depot that repairs military electronics. If Obama sticks to his guns on budget cuts, that would be real bad news for Scranton’s economy.

Unfortunately for Obama, the Keystone State isn’t the only place this formula is in play. As Thompson notes, Obama only carried Florida with 50.9% of the vote in 2008. While Florida may be more popularly known for amusement parks, beaches and space centers, it is also home to several huge naval bases which support tens of thousands of jobs in the surrounding communities. You don’t even need to close one of those bases to produce a significant effect. Any sizable shrinkage in funding – and staffing – would send more workers to the unemployment lines in a state the president can ill afford to lose.

The list doesn’t end there. Virginia, Colorado, North Carolina and even Ohio are significant recipients of Washington largess when it comes to defense industry jobs, and each of them are in play next year. So even as some of Obama’s most ardent supporters may be cheering the “long overdue” cuts to our massive military complex, they could be baiting a trap that he won’t be able to avoid come election time.

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Defense spending is a necessary evil… however it is not a jobs program. Like all other government spending, jobs “created” by defense spending come at a cost to the economy as a whole.

Defense spending should never be defended on the basis of “jobs” but on the basis of national security. If there is waste in the DoD, it should be scrutinized just like all other waste.

mankai on November 30, 2011 at 8:51 AM

I want the soldiers to have high-tech helmets and smart bombs, keeping redundant bases in Germany operating to support the local German economies…not so much. Target the things that make sense and lay off the things that make our military the awesome force it is.

Bishop on November 30, 2011 at 8:53 AM

I know there are limits and reasonable cuts for waste…but last time I checked, national defense was called for in that pesky Constitution…school funding and Social Security, not so much.

search4truth on November 30, 2011 at 9:01 AM

And Bishop, I agree with your Germany comment. Let the EU pay to defend their countries…we can provide support, but they need to do the heavy lifting.

search4truth on November 30, 2011 at 9:02 AM

Spending on the military is costly and wasteful but investing in other things like food stamps and grants to ACORN is totally awesome stimulus that’ll totally multiply itself and ‘get the economy going’.

forest on November 30, 2011 at 9:04 AM

I suppose I could quote the geniuses over at FireDogLake:

“Abolish the military! Bunch of jackbooted murderers!”

Bishop on November 30, 2011 at 9:09 AM

Don’t forget the ‘hidden hand’ effect.

All manner of things spin out of DoD & DARPA research, projects, and production efforts.

Some of that is duplicated by private industry, but the truly ‘ground-breaking’ stuff almost always is the result of some defense/space contract. And the latter item, for the short term, is ceasing to be an issue.

The primary well-spring of ‘jobs’ is imagination, and need; the source of that need is not a consideration.

CPT. Charles on November 30, 2011 at 9:09 AM

Any sizable shrinkage in funding – and staffing – would send more workers to the unemployment lines in a state the president can ill afford to lose.

This is the exact argument used by Democrats during the debate over the stimulus bill, particularly the segment used to provide emergency aid to state governments so that they could avoid layoffs. It makes me wonder: if this argument is essentially sound, what does it say about someone who refuses to go through with it when it comes to educating children or protecting neighborhoods, but jumps at the chance when it comes to making war?

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:19 AM

Let the EU pay to defend their countries…we can provide support, but they need to do the heavy lifting.

search4truth on November 30, 2011 at 9:02 AM

This.

I constantly have to remind my liberal friends that the reason Europe can afford (used to be able to afford) the social benefits they granted was because they operated under the US defense umbrella.

Force the Europeans to shoulder the lion’s share of their own protection and it’ll all even out. Our defense budget can come down (by surgically targeting our Western Europe facilities) and theirs will go up.

Weirdly, when we all play by the same rules, we all end up in just about the same place.

Washington Nearsider on November 30, 2011 at 9:24 AM

mankai on November 30, 2011 at 8:51 AM

Bishop on November 30, 2011 at 8:53 AM

Well said.

Defense spending is used as a political hammer, because of the jobs dependent on it. Those are very poor reasons to “justify” keeping a program alive. Those jobs are parasitic to the overall economy, as all government jobs are, by nature.

KMC1 on November 30, 2011 at 9:24 AM

Where are the Republicans on this? They should be pulling a Schumer and putting out a bill which has no chance of enactment just to put the pressure on Obama.

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 9:39 AM

Most of a soldiers paycheck is for mortgage rent and payments in America. Can Obama force schools to hire unemployed military as school teachers?

Many military get their old jobs back. That means they “bump” their replacement out of a job.

seven on November 30, 2011 at 9:40 AM

KMC1 on November 30, 2011 at 9:24 AM

Defense — as parasitic as it is — is the one funding activity specifically called out as necessary in our Constitution.

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 9:40 AM

This is the exact argument used by Democrats during the debate over the stimulus bill, particularly the segment used to provide emergency aid to state governments so that they could avoid layoffs. It makes me wonder: if this argument is essentially sound, what does it say about someone who refuses to go through with it when it comes to educating children or protecting neighborhoods, but jumps at the chance when it comes to making war?

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:19 AM

DOD workers are less likely to be unionized. Porkulus was about preserving dues from public-sector unions, not actually protecting jobs. Unionized state jobs are a little more concentrated in state capitals, but generally are more evenly distributed throughout states. DOD jobs are concentrated in towns with military assets.

Sekhmet on November 30, 2011 at 9:43 AM

Porkulus was about preserving dues from public-sector unions, not actually protecting jobs.
Sekhmet on November 30, 2011 at 9:43 AM

You’ve no actual basis for this claim, but regardless: Shaw is asking us to forgo a budget cut to protect jobs, specifically referencing unemployment lines. This is exactly the argument used by Democrats to direct stimulus funds to state budgets.

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:49 AM

what does it say about someone who refuses to go through with it when it comes to educating children or protecting neighborhoods

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:19 AM

OK, I’ll bite. What does hundreds of billions, going to propping up the teetering pension systems of government workers retiring at 50 or so with most of their salary and benefits intact, have to do with “educating children or protecting neighborhoods?”

MNHawk on November 30, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Defense — as parasitic as it is — is the one funding activity specifically called out as necessary in our Constitution.

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 9:40 AM

If only the Constitution had gone into great depth to define “defense.”

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 9:51 AM

Shaw is asking us to forgo a budget cut to protect jobs, specifically referencing unemployment lines.

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Child, I see no such advocating. I just see Shaw pointing out the inconsistencies in what YOUR President is advocating. As you can see with the very first post, you’re not in your usual environment of people being dumb enough to believe that government actions increase net jobs.

MNHawk on November 30, 2011 at 9:53 AM

You’ve no actual basis for this claim, but regardless: Shaw is asking us to forgo a budget cut to protect jobs, specifically referencing unemployment lines. This is exactly the argument used by Democrats to direct stimulus funds to state budgets.

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Again, other than state capitals, state workers are pretty evenly distributed throughout a state. Closing 10 State Department of Silly Walks offices throughout a state will have less of an impact than closing the Buzzard Flats Naval Base would have on jobs in the entire Buzzard Flats area.

Sekhmet on November 30, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Child, I see no such advocating. I just see Shaw pointing out the inconsistencies in what YOUR President is advocating. As you can see with the very first post, you’re not in your usual environment of people being dumb enough to believe that government actions increase net jobs.

MNHawk on November 30, 2011 at 9:53 AM

From my quick skimming, that was my interpretation, too. That’s not to say there aren’t any Republicans that take this position, but no reasonable conservative is going to suggest that DoD must continue to be funded to hire Americans.

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 9:55 AM

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 9:40 AM

What does that mean to you though? Does it mean having more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world…..combined??? (Not to mention ONE of ours, could take on ALL the others)

Look at spending; the U.S. spends 43% of the GLOBAL defense spending, while being 5% of the global population…..does this make sense???

The U.S. spends more on defense the the next 9 NATO “partners”, combined. Does this make sense???

As we have seen with our VERY hawkish current President, in contradiction to the specific purpose of the Constitutionally required DEFENSE spending, this kind of power imbalance can (and has, in the case of Libya) lead to illegal uses of our military.

What about Police departments? Let’s face it, our Police are essentially paramilitary. The VT State Police could over throw Canada for cripes sakes. Do we really need this amount of Police?

The U.S. has become a true “military-industrial complex”. And it’s not good.

KMC1 on November 30, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Sekhmet on November 30, 2011 at 9:55 AM

Corporations make this decision all the time. Towns develop around plants, plants get closed. There you guys are, trying to cut unemployment benefits and every other service that might go towards allieviating the pain that comes from that, but when it’s a military base, all of a sudden those jobs need protecting, at any cost.

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:59 AM

What about Police departments? Let’s face it, our Police are essentially paramilitary. The VT State Police could over throw Canada for cripes sakes. Do we really need this amount of Police?

KMC1 on November 30, 2011 at 9:58 AM

Canop is not going to be pleased. :)

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 10:01 AM

Shaw is asking us to forgo a budget cut to protect jobs, specifically referencing unemployment lines. This is exactly the argument used by Democrats to direct stimulus funds to state budgets.

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Yep. Ernesto is right but the jobs being protected in both cases should be scrutinized. Many jobs in the defence industry have become redundent on the Federal level but not so much in the private sector of sefence contractors.

Teachers, firemen and policemen have been over hyped and I say that being a former volunteer firemen and having 3 brothers who are firemen. Two are Chiefs and one a Captain.

Vince on November 30, 2011 at 10:17 AM

defence = defense

Vince on November 30, 2011 at 10:17 AM

While Florida may be more popularly known for amusement parks, beaches and space centers, it is also home to several huge naval bases which support tens of thousands of jobs in the surrounding communities. You don’t even need to close one of those bases to produce a significant effect.

Don’t forget how Obama screwed the Space Coast workforce over. He did his song and dance in Florida to space industry workers about how vital they were, he’d focus on space as president, yadda yadda — and now with his deep cuts to NASA and related programs, tens of thousands of space industry workers are jobless. Just remember, there’s plenty of room UNDER the Obama bus once you no longer serve his interests…

EasyEight on November 30, 2011 at 10:22 AM

In protecting Europe they have forgotten the necessity of self-defense at a National scale. In the meantime the economic policies that are fostered in that hot house are pulling the plug from Europe economically, socially, morally and demographically so that there are a number of EU Nations below the replacement rate for population. The last large-scale European system that had such stats plunged that region into what is known as a ‘Dark Age’. It is time to leave those bases which may be under threat from what is going on there and to put Europe on notice that: 1) US protection is ending, 2) the US came there twice to help out Europe, and 3) we won’t be coming back a 3rd time.

In places like Kenya, while it is nice to have some counter-terror expertise there, those missions can be done from elsewhere.

Why we are in Uganda is anybody’s guess.

We do, still, have some relative friends and allies, and they do need to know we value them… Colombia going after FARC and Philippines going after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front come to mind, but those are relatively small venues. Beyond that we don’t need bases in friendly Nations and require them overseas to fight wars, and with Iraq winding down (good luck over there!) and AFPAK in a Charlie-Foxtrot, we need to examine just what it is we actually can do there (which, I would suggest, isn’t much at this point).

We aren’t the World’s Policeman, and we don’t need a base in every sector of the planet.

And if history is any teacher, the next thing we need is a serious re-visit of counter-piracy because, sooner or later, some warlord/jihadist group/renegade dictator is going to start finding out that big ships can be had for a small price. Then things really begin to breakdown. Once trade starts grinding to a halt, well, you can kiss the ‘entitlement’ ‘safety net’ good-bye for good and all. We are not far away from that time if we don’t manage things NOW. Your choice: warm-fuzzy ‘entitlements’, school teachers, policemen… OR … Iron Times with the economy grinding to a halt because we won’t protect ourselves, our commerce, or our Nation.

ajacksonian on November 30, 2011 at 10:26 AM

This has nothing to do with reducing the national debt. The effect of $600 billion over ten years is marginal.

Wake up people. This is about Obama’s intentions to weaken the U.S. as a dominant player on the world stage. Just like the rest of his actions. He is a traitor, not some kind of economic know-it-all. Just who is it who steps up whenever tyrants and dictators threaten their neighbors and the world? The U.S. military that’s who.

fogw on November 30, 2011 at 10:57 AM

seven on November 30, 2011 at 9:40 AM

If you join the military, you quit your job. It’s the National Guard of which you are thinking. That’s fair — a few weeks a year of service to our country should not be a firing offense.

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 10:58 AM

If only the Constitution had gone into great depth to define “defense.”

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 9:51 AM

If only the Constitution had gone into great depth to define a lot of things…

Notice that the Constitution starts out being rather frugal with words, but as later amendments appear, they get more verbose — precisely because our Founding Fathers lived in a world of simplicity and plain talk, while our latter era lives in a world of lawyers…

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 11:01 AM

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:19 AM

At least those workers are doing something worth while in the context of our country.

Over here in Culver City, ARRA funds went to
a) a performing arts group,
b) resurfacing a roadway which didn’t need it — it was resurfaced five years ago,
c) re-landscaping a railroad right of way which had been converted to a bike path five years ago when (b) was done the first time.

Like California’s Bullet Train to Nowhere, it’s money that apparently needed to be spent on something. The tax dollars used could have been spent far more wisely by the taxpayers who paid them.

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Corporations make this decision all the time. Towns develop around plants, plants get closed. There you guys are, trying to cut unemployment benefits and every other service that might go towards allieviating the pain that comes from that, but when it’s a military base, all of a sudden those jobs need protecting, at any cost.

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Aww, that post needs a soundtrack. Here you go.

The government is supposed to pay for defense, not unemployment benefits ad infinitum for people who won’t go where the jobs are. 99 weeks? How can you stay unemployed for 99 weeks unless you are either waiting for your old job to come back (delusional), or aren’t taking steps (take whatever pays more than unemployment even if it’s slinging hash, move or bi-locate to where the jobs are, lower your expectations) to put yourself back to work? I’m truly sorry some folks bought houses at housing bubble prices in Michigan, California, or some other blighted hole, but long before I’d reach 99 weeks, I would have walked away from the house or sent my spouse out of state to work.

Sekhmet on November 30, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Just who is it who steps up whenever tyrants and dictators threaten their neighbors and the world? The U.S. military that’s who.

fogw on November 30, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Defense?

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 11:32 AM

precisely because our Founding Fathers lived in a world of simplicity and plain talk, while our latter era lives in a world of lawyers…

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 11:01 AM

I’d say our founders were comfortable using legal terms and acting like lawyers (and legislatures).

Now the question is, would their simplicity and plain talk have allowed for the current levels of spending in the DoD?

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 11:34 AM

The government is supposed to pay for defense

The question is how much defense and what exactly qualifies as defense?

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 11:35 AM

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Interesting that you mention how Porkulus involved redundant spending (in your points b and c above): I’ve been living on the bottom of the planet for almost a decade now, and have only visited the US twice since 2002 (in 2008 and 2011). My last visit was in late August – early September of this year, and I was amazed at how “new” everything looked. My first impression was that we had gone and spent money like sailors on roads, rest stops, etc., etc. like some family that was pretending to be rich. I’m sure you know the type.

As for others who have commented on defense spending generally, I’d like to point out a few things to consider:

1. Weapons systems development has become incredibly complex and thanks to funding profiles, long lead times are now the norm: compare the development of the F-14 Tomcat (from initial RFP in 1968 to first deployment only six years later, in 1974), to that of the F-22 Raptor (from initial RFP in 1983 to first production deployment seventeen years later, in 2003). While some of this lead time is driven by the politics of program funding, the simple fact is that the F-22 is a far more complex weapons system than the Tomcat, and developing such things takes time. Cutting defense spending only stretches that time lag, allowing our enemies to catch up to our capabilities.

2. Defense jobs are more likely to be highly skilled and less likely to be unionised. And even when those jobs are unionised, remember that SCOAMF doesn’t treat all unions as equals: give him a choice between private sector unions and public sector ones, and in almost all cases he will toss the private unions under his infamous bus – UAW notwithstanding, perhaps, only because they represent a massive bloc of Michigan voters. Otherwise, private sector union jobs only matter to SCOAMF when he can use them to screw a right to work state (NLRB, I’m looking at you). Most of you guys understand why this is the case.

3. As others have stated, our maintaining forward bases in Europe, Japan, and Korea have allowed many of our allies to go full-throated into Socialism while covering over that nasty problem of paying for their own defense spending by shifting that cost to the United States. It was great while it lasted, but hey guys, we’re now broke, and we’re gonna have to look more towards our own interests. Oh, and you know that little problem of sabre rattling by Kim Jong Ill? Simple way to solve it: close the bases in Japan and tell the Japanese that it’s ok for them to go nuclear to look after their own defense interests. Over/under on how quickly China muzzles NoKo in that instance: about half a second. Ditto for Israel vis a vis Iran, just replace China with Russia.

Don’t get me wrong, defense spending is far from perfect. But it is necessary and (unlike so many other Govt functions these days) mandated under the Constitution.

Oh, and never forget this little gem from Alexis de Tocqueville:

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

On that note, we are well and truly boned…

Wanderlust on November 30, 2011 at 11:50 AM

precisely because our Founding Fathers lived in a world of simplicity and plain talk, while our latter era lives in a world of lawyers…

unclesmrgol on November 30, 2011 at 11:01 AM

Simplicity and plain talk!? Have you read the Federalist papers?!

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 12:22 PM

If jobs are to be lost, it should be the European jobs that go first.

US Taxpayers footing the bill for Europe’s defense since the fall of the Berlin wall is obscene. Close some of those European bases.

chalons on November 30, 2011 at 12:34 PM

Ernesto throws out the left’s BS talking points as usual- the GOP is against educating children and fluffy puppies all because we won’t castrate our ability to protect ourselves.

Hard Right on November 30, 2011 at 12:35 PM

Ernesto throws out the left’s BS talking points as usual- the GOP is against educating children and fluffy puppies all because we won’t castrate our ability to protect ourselves.

Hard Right on November 30, 2011 at 12:35 PM

What Ern and other libs so conveniently forget is that national defense is a constitutionally mandated function of the federal government. Wealth redistribution in the form of stimulus funds or otherwise is not.

gryphon202 on November 30, 2011 at 12:49 PM

If only the Constitution had gone into great depth to define “defense.”

MeatHeadinCA on November 30, 2011 at 9:51 AM

It does, but not even the Republicans care anymore…

Article I section 8 clause 12-13…

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

Article I section 8 clause 16…

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

What most people don’t realize is that the definition of “Militia” is defined at the state level. For example, in Ohio, section 9.01 of the Ohio Constitution states…

All citizens, residents of this state, being seventeen years of age, and under the age of sixty-seven years, shall be subject to enrollment in the militia and the performance of military duty, in such manner, not incompatible with the Constitution and laws of the United States, as may be prescribed by law.

So, when you think about it… not only is the federal government supposed to support the 2nd Amendment, but it is also supposed to PROVIDE and TRAIN our fellow citizens in the use of those arms.

If you read the original 16th clause above, all militia are supposed to be armed and trained, while only part of them would be used for government service (such as with a National Guard).

Also, note the buildings mentioned in Article I section 8 clause 17…

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;

Land acquisition, except for military and needful BUILDINGS, is restricted outside of D.C. (not exceeding ten square miles).

dominigan on November 30, 2011 at 12:59 PM

It makes me wonder: if this argument is essentially sound, what does it say about someone who refuses to go through with it when it comes to educating children or protecting neighborhoods, but jumps at the chance when it comes to making war?

ernesto on November 30, 2011 at 9:19 AM

This shouldn’t need pointing out, but you did ask the question.

Making war is a national-level responsibility. Educating children is a municipal-level responsibility. Protecting neighborhoods varies, between municipal, county/parish, and State levels. Due to technology and the ease of crossing State borders, we’ve since added a national law-enforcement agency as well. That said, responsibility for criminal investigations are supposed to follow a tiered system of jurisdiction. That’s the basis of a federal system of government.

Why doesn’t Education follow the same model as law enforcement? It’s apples and oranges; you cannot outrun your own educational past simply by crossing a State line (nor can you be imprisoned simply for ignorance or stupidity).

Now what if one of those links in the chain of governance proves to be truly dysfunctional? What if it screws up everything it comes in contact with, simply by existing? That’s the other benefit to the federal system. It limits the damage to the dysfunctional cell instead of spreading ruin over the whole.

An example: Let’s say for the sake of argument that your city cannot protect your neighborhood and/or educate your children (due to poor finances because the city council drove out all the employers, or poor management decisions led to all of the city’s money getting poured into a Springfield Monorail project, or you have a downright corrupt city government, or whatever). In that case, you need to either find another city to live in (vote with your feet), or get another set of managers for your current city that can handle the responsibilities of their offices in an adult manner (vote with your head).

What you need to NOT do, is demand funds and oversight for the fools you elected, to be taken from my city, county, State, and Federal governments, to help you avoid the malfeasance and incompetence of the government that you yourself put in place.

In short, wipe up your own mess!

Blacksmith on November 30, 2011 at 11:18 PM